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Individualism in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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Individualism in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter
Often in society people are criticized, punished and despised for their individual choices and flaws. In the novel, The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author uses Hester Prynne to symbolize that those who challenge social conformities can benefit society as a whole. Though she has been banished for committing adultery, she sees that the community needs her. Through her generous accomplishments the community realizes she is a person who, regardless of her sin, can affect the community in a positive way.

The new Puritan society wanted to punish Hester Prynne horribly so that she would set an example of the consequences the others would receive if they committed a sin.. At first the Puritans took a delight in Hester Prynne's punishment, having thought they cleansed the town, and therefore only leaving a "pure" society. They forced Hester Prynne to stand in front of the town for hours as the crowd tried to break her down with criticism and shaming words. After her release, "the scene was not without a mixture of awe, such as much always invest the spectacle of guilt and shame of a fellow creature" (63)... They thought that if they treated her horribly then no one would ever even think of breaking the law again. Their fear of sin and wickedness drove them in their quest to do what they felt was right. The society had to protect itself from its own judgment. Their fault was that they only saw Hester for the crime she had committed but not as the woman she was. When the community banished Hester Prynne they succeeded in upholding their morality but lost an individual. The community is nothing more than a collection of individuals. Although they did not see this p...


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...le refused to interpret the scarlet "A" by its original signification. They said that it meant "Able": so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength" (156). She was "Able" to deal with a town that hated her, and then a town that accepted her for her good works. The society was able to look past their hatred for Hester Prynne and see that in fact they needed her. And finally she was able to stay, where she wanted to be. Over time the fact that Hester didn't crumble and in fact stood taller despite her exclusion, the Puritan society opened their eyes to see that good can survive even in the heart of a sinner. Despite everything they tried to do, out of their fear of losing their values, individuals would still make mistakes and cause differences in the community. Thus saying that within a community there will always be individuals to test the limits of society.


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